As the storm about HS2 rumbled on, leading to the eventual cancellation of the northern legs by the Prime Minister, the railway had top billing in the news headlines. This in itself might seem remarkable, given the many other stories vying for attention.
When it came, Rishi Sunak’s decision was not a surprise, rehearsed as it was during the constant speculation in the days before. What we didn’t know was how the potential borrowing for HS2 would be redirected. It seems Mr Sunak wanted a list of other investments he could excitedly call out at great speed to win applause in his party conference speech – but once the speech was over and the Government’s ‘Network North’ document was published, things soon began to unravel.
What was sold by the Prime Minister as a series of investment commitments in fact turned out to be at best a wishlist of schemes for illustrative purposes, many of which do not have business cases prepared and for which funding must be obtained separately. Bear in mind that funds borrowed for HS2 could only be used for that, not for other schemes. Of course, there are some very worthy schemes in there, dotted across the country, some of which are fairly well developed, but it soon emerged that the likelihood of them all being delivered is slim.